Archive for the ‘CLASSIC ALBUMS’ Category

The digitally re-mastered version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic concert from “The Albert Hall” in 1970.

When CCR took the stage for two nights in April of 1970, the band members had reached the height of their international stardom and arrived ready to prove themselves as equals to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles, who had announced their breakup just days before. Their performance—which included hits like “Born On The Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” and “Fortunate Son” was met with a 15-minute standing ovation and rave next-day reviews in the UK’s top publications. More than 50 years after that legendary show, the original multitrack tapes have been meticulously restored and mixed by award winning producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell.

This powerful performance captures the band at the height of their powers before the acrimony and in-fighting kicked in. Performing classic CCR songs including “Bad Moon Rising”, “Proud Mary” and “Keep On Chooglin’, this is a perfect introduction to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival and a must have for any fan!.

Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall will be released concurrently with the documentary concert feature film, Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall. Directed by two-time GRAMMY® Award winner Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology and Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies) and narrated by Academy Award®-winning actor Jeff Bridges, the film takes viewers from the band’s earliest years together in El Cerrito, CA through their meteoric rise to fame. Featuring a wealth of unseen footage, “Travelin’ Band” culminates with the band’s show at the Royal Albert Hall—marking the only concert footage of the original CCR line-up to be released in its entirety. The film will rollout internationally on September 16th, stay tuned for more details coming soon.

The 180g LP was mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios using half-speed technology for the highest-quality listening experience.

The album is being released on September 16th, 2022, on 180-gram vinyl, CD, cassette and digital formats (including ATMOS® immersive and hi-res audio). A Super Deluxe Edition Box Set will follow on November 18th,

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No other popular rock band of their era, let alone the San Francisco scene, boasted five singer-songwriters in their ranks. But “multi-faceted” isn’t synonymous with “good” — and, luckily, Moby Grape had the melodies, arrangements and overall sonic vision to maximize that breadth of skill. The band released four albums in the ’60s before burning out early in the next decade (and being revived later on) — but they could easily stopped after their self-titled 1967 debut, which expertly wove folk, blues, psych-rock and country into a heavily harmonized swirl.

Arguably the most talented San Francisco band from the golden era, Moby Grape was a beloved group whose debut album was released with great fanfare on Columbia Records in June 1967 amid the Summer of Love. It climbed to No24 on album charts with an unprecedented five singles dropped from it.

Each member of the group: Jerry Miller (guitar, vocals, Peter Lewis (guitar, vocals), Skip Spence (guitar, vocals), Bob Mosley (bass, vocals) and Don Stevenson (drums) all contributed to the singing and song writing, each could sing lead, and the versatility of the band was demonstrated in its fusing of folk music, blues, jazz, and rock. So, what went wrong? Why didn’t the group rise to the level of other San Francisco bands such as the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service or Big Brother & the Holding Company?

As it happened the band was entangled in legal disputes with their former manager, Matthew Katz, for many years. As described by Jeff Tamarkin “The Grape’s saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing and less.” Anyone who saw the Grape perform at the Avalon in January, February or August 1967 or at Winterland with the Byrds in March and April 1967 knows what a singular band it was. The musicianship was extraordinary. Just a few of the band’s gems: “8:05,” “Someday,” “Sitting by the Window,” and “Hey Grandma.” Moby Grape recorded five albums from 1967-1971 but after the second disc “Wow,” (the band’s highest charting album), the next three releases were poor sellers.

Three of the four surviving members (Skip Spence died in Santa Cruz in 1999) still are active in the music business. It is sad that the band never fully realized its true potential, but it is remembered fondly by those fans that were present at its creation.

Just over fifty years ago, the debut album by the San Francisco band Moby Grape was released on Columbia Records. Generally hailed as one of the finest recordings from the ’60s San Francisco scene—and often as one of the great debuts of all time, period—its June 6th, 1967, release presaged a series of missteps, legal sagas and tragedies that have since become legend.

In this edited excerpt from Best Classic Bands editor Jeff Tamarkin’s 2003 biography, Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, he recounts the tale of Moby Grape and the band’s enigmatic co-founder Skip Spence.

In the summer of 1965, the recently formed Jefferson Airplane decided to dismiss their first drummer, Jerry Peloquin. That’s when a golden boy named Alexander “Skip” Spence came waltzing into [San Francisco’s] Matrix club and was immediately signed up by Marty Balin, the band’s co-founder.

Spence had little experience as a drummer but Balin just knew he’d be right for the group. He sent Spence home with a pair of drumsticks and he soon debuted with the band, playing on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Spence wasn’t one for staying in the same place very long though, and he took off to Mexico one day with a girlfriend or two, neglecting to tell the band he was leaving. They decided he wasn’t going to work out and Spence was soon replaced by Spencer Dryden, who remained the Airplane’s drummer throughout their key years of 1966-70.

In the summer of ’66, Skip returned to the Bay Area from Mexico and resurfaced with a new band, Moby Grape, this time playing guitar, his first instrument. They woodshedded in Marin County for months and played their first gig at the city’s California Hall on November 4; everyone who heard them agreed that this was an astounding band.

One of the great rock debuts of all time. The album cover was reprinted after early pressings, with Don Stevenson’s offending middle finger statement airbrushed out. The album cover, featuring a photo of the band in front of a junk shop, caused controversy because of drummer Stevenson’s middle finger on a washboard (later airbrushed out) and an appearance of an American flag behind Spence. When veterans groups complained about these “longhairs” representing the United States, Columbia made alterations.
“They chickened out and took that off and put on an orange flag,” Miller recalled. “And that wasn’t good enough, because they could still see through that, that it was originally an American flag. So then, they made it black. And we were insulted, and still insulted … because we’re Americans too.”

The Airplane—who’d been working in Los Angeles on their sophomore album, “Surrealistic Pillow”, and playing gigs out of town—missed the chance to catch their former drummer’s new band right away. What really confused the Airplane, however, was learning that the Grape was managed by Matthew Katz. Katz had also been the Airplane’s first manager, and he’d given them nothing but grief. Subsequent lawsuits involving Katz would tie up the court system for a whopping 21 years. Why Skip Spence would choose to continue working with Katz was just one of the many unfortunate mysteries in which his life became entangled during the three-plus decades following his Airplane tenure.

The Grape’s saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, or less.

Katz had helped engineer the Grape’s formation. In addition to Spence, the quintet included two other guitarists: Peter Lewis (the son of actress Loretta Young), who used to play with Spencer Dryden down in L.A. and was most recently working with a band called Peter and the Wolves; and Jerry Miller. Miller and drummer Don Stevenson had played together in a bar band in the Pacific Northwest called the Frantics, and Miller had earlier worked with Bobby Fuller, the Texan rocker who died under mysterious circumstances in the summer of ’66 just months after scoring a Top 10 hit with the Sonny Curtis-penned “I Fought The Law.”

The Frantics had relocated to San Francisco in 1965, where bassist Bob Mosley worked with them briefly. Mosley recommended Miller and Stevenson to fill out the line-up of the proposed new group, which took its moniker from the punch line of a dumb joke: “What’s purple and swims in the ocean?”  At first, the rest of the Grape-to-be wasn’t sure about working with Spence.

Jerry Miller: He was a little bit too crazy, even then. When we first met him, he looked a little bit crazed. He was one of the first guys I’d seen with ratted hair. And he’d laugh hysterically when he’d get the feeling. But he played excellent rhythm guitar. He did these things where he would muffle the strings. And he did that better than anybody, ever. And when the five of us played together, there was something happening that was undeniable.

Moby Grape was a record company’s dream band when they debuted. Their complementary three-guitar lineup produced a thunderous noise, not unlike what Buffalo Springfield was doing down in L.A., and each member of the band could sing. Their songs were expertly composed and had both commercial possibilities and the integrity demanded by San Francisco audiences. They looked great onstage—they had a real presence, and real moves, unlike some of the other local bands—and put on a dazzling performance. Many felt that they were the most accomplished band on the scene musically from the moment they showed up. They were tight, and worked within structures that were anathema to some of their peers in the city.

Said keyboardist and singer Al Kooper, then working in New York with the Blues Project, “The only San Francisco band that did anything for me was Moby Grape. They adhered to more of a three- minute mentality.

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But the Grape was doomed. For starters, they allowed Matthew Katz to retain ownership of their name, precipitating legal battles that continued to tie up the court system clear to the end of the 20th century and kept the musicians from exploiting their own legacy. And in 1967, upon the release of their first album for Columbia Records, hailed by many critics as one of few perfect debuts in rock history, the Grape was the victim of one of the most misguided marketing efforts in the annals of the music industry: the simultaneous release of nearly all of the songs on the album as A-sides or B-sides of singles. By pitting the five records against one another, Columbia effectively cancelled out the possibility of any one of them gaining enough momentum to become a hit. The disaster was compounded by a press party at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom so overblown in its hype quotient (purple flowers everywhere) that Moby Grape never really recovered.

Things got worse. There were busts and a second album, Wow/Grape Jam, generally considered inferior to the first. And then, in 1968, began the downfall of Skippy Spence. Spence had taken to gobbling tabs of LSD like Pez, and taking harder drugs, becoming increasingly unreliable and unpredictable. While the band was staying in New York, at the Albert Hotel, Spence chopped away at Stevenson and Miller’s hotel room door with a fire axe, and when he failed to find them there, continued on to the studio where the group had been recording. Katz’s management style proved consistent with the way he’d managed the Airplane. Jerry Miller says that he remembers the Grape missing a photo session for the high-circulation Look magazine because Katz had gotten the time of the shoot wrong. Producer David Rubinson managed to get the weapon away, but Spence was taken by police, first to the Tombs jail and finally to Bellevue Hospital, where he spent six months undergoing psychiatric care. He was never the same after that—the old Skip Spence, described by everyone as a happy-go-lucky, good-time fellow, falling into a dope-induced psychosis.

Jerry Miller: Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there that were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. They were really strange, almost Nazi-ish. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him he had cut off his beard, and he had a black leather jacket on, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don’t know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel. They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an axe to the doorman’s head.

At the end of 1968, Spence was released, and hopped a Triumph motorcycle pointed toward Nashville, where he recorded the idiosyncratic solo album “Oar” for Columbia. Although largely ignored in its time, “Oar” grew in stature as a cult favourite album over the years, culminating in the simultaneous 1999 re-release of the album, with bonus tracks appended to it, and a tribute album called “More Oar”, consisting of new interpretations of the album’s songs by contemporary artists such as Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Tom Waits.

But by then, it was too late for Skip Spence. After a near-lifetime as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, living much of the time in institutions as a ward of the state, only occasionally venturing out to make new music with the former members of Moby Grape, Alexander “Skip” Spence died on April 16th, 1999, in Santa Cruz, California. He was two days shy of his 53rd birthday. Although the official cause of death was lung cancer, Spence had entered the hospital on April 5th with numerous ailments, including pneumonia, hepatitis and congestive heart failure. His lifestyle and years of poverty and neglect had finally caught up with him. Unlike many other casualties of the ’60s, Spence neither died young nor had a chance to find his way out. Unlike the advice in the Neil Young song, he both burned out and faded away.

Yet he touched so many.

Sam Andrew (of Big Brother and the Holding Company): I went to see the Airplane at the Matrix when they were starting out, and what knocked me out was Skip Spence. He was all I could see the night I went. He was the drummer but he had so much charisma. He was really a great player. He was really driving the band. It was just so complete, such a good sound.

Listen to “Omaha” from their debut

Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane): He wasn’t the preeminent guitar player in Moby Grape, but he probably was responsible for a good 30 to 40 percent of the exuberance of Moby Grape, just him alone. On stage at his height, he was a force to be reckoned with, in terms of joy and participation and passion with what you’re doing and connecting it to people out there. He was a really bright star. He came up with beautiful chord changes and the melodies going through them. He had a real knack for that. He was one of the casualties. That didn’t happen until he left the Airplane. And then he had troubles with Matthew and Moby Grape and acid and heroin and girlfriends; those things all conspired against him to blow him over the hill.

Miller says that the Grape, when they first formed, was unaware of the problems that the Airplane had had with Katz.

Jerry Miller: Neither Skippy nor Matthew told us that he fell out of favour with them. So it took a while before we found that out that they definitely didn’t like the Matthew guy. He had a talent, but he abused the hell out of it. I’m not real pro-Matthew at all. I wouldn’t piss in his face if his eyebrows were on fire.

The Grape held on until 1969, recording and performing without Spence and Mosley, who, disgusted with the turn of events, joined the Marines in an effort to get far away from the rock ’n’ roll world. Mosley was discharged after nine months, but the Moby Grape saga continued to grow more bizarre and frustrating for the members in subsequent years. In 1970, Katz, who owned the band’s name, put together a new Moby Grape consisting of none of the original members. Eventually a court decision sided with Katz on the ownership of both the name and the Grape’s recorded catalogue, making it virtually impossible at times for the original members to capitalize on the music they had created in the ’60s. Even Columbia Records was unable to reissue the Grape’s albums, which came out instead on a label set up by Katz.

There would be other Moby Grape recordings and reunions, both under that name and others—the Legendary Grape, the Melvilles—concocted in an effort to circumvent Katz’s claims on the group, but for the most part, despite the occasional resurfacing, Moby Grape was sunk almost from the start. Katz spent the better part of the years after the band’s original demise in courts fighting appeals and initiating new suits, not just against the Grape but another prominent San Francisco band he managed, It’s a Beautiful Day. (Ed. note: Katz is still alive as of this posting, now over 90 years old. In 2010 he ran unsuccessfully for the Malibu, California, city council.)

Meanwhile, after spending several years in and out of the Grape and other bands, Mosley’s life took a downward spiral, and he spent considerable time homeless before coming around again in the late ’90s. By that time, not only had Miller, Mosley, Lewis and Stevenson reunited as Moby Grape, they had done so legally, the courts finally deciding in their favour on the name ownership issue. Miller, Lewis and Mosley still  perform today on occasion as Moby Grape, augmented by Skip’s son, Omar Spence, and Joseph Miller, Jerry’s son. Jerry Miller also performs with his own band.

If the “Summer of Love” had a theme song, it would have to be “Get Together”, by The Youngbloods. With its warm cascade of chords and message of aspirational brotherhood, “Together” swirled the hippie ethic into a song.

As far as choruses go, few are as instantly identifiable as this one: “Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”

The song, “Get Together” (sometimes called “Let’s Get Together”), has a fascinating, convoluted history. For most people, it will always be associated with the Youngbloods, whose primary lead singer, Jesse Colin Young originally born Perry Miller in November 1941 in Queens, N.Y. Young got his start in the early ’60s as a solo folk-blues singer on the Boston-Cambridge club circuit. He released two acoustic albums, “The Soul of a City Boy” (Capitol Records, 1964) and “Young Blood” (Mercury, 1965), before the rock and roll bug bit him.

Along with guitarist-singer Jerry Corbitt, keyboardist-guitarist Lowell “Banana” Levinger and drummer Joe Bauer, Young (who switched to bass in the band) formed the Youngbloods in Boston in 1966 and, after signing with RCA Records, they recorded their self-titled debut album the following year. Corbitt and Young started playing together on his back porch. Then one day after the Beatles came out we said, “Could we just transition into a band?” Banana lived down the street from Corbitt, and Joe Bauer had just come up from Memphis and moved in upstairs from Banana. There weren’t a lot of drummers around, because the folk thing was pretty strong. Pretty soon I was playing duo and then we were Jesse Colin Young and the Lonely Nights or the Jerry Corbitt Three. We had a bunch of names before we got around to Youngbloods.

The debut album produced by Mountain‘s Felix Pappalardi, who had a reputation as an gifted arranger on the New York folk scene, later he would also produce Cream around the same time, the folk-rock album, which bore a resemblance to the sound of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Even while they were moving forward, the Youngbloods experienced a surprise hit when “Get Together,” from the debut, was re-released in the summer of ’69. This time it resonated with the larger audience, The Youngbloods’ debut album, a self-titled work which minted a signature sound sifting together folk, jazz, ragtime, country-rock and psychedelia. During their 5 year run, The Youngbloods recorded a deep trove of elegant tunes

A single taken from the album, “Get Together,” credited to Chet Powers (who was actually future Quicksilver Messenger Service singer Dino Valenti), The Youngbloods’ sophomore LP, “Earth Music”, in the same vein musically. Jefferson Airplane had already recorded the song for their pre-Grace Slick debut album in ’66 (Jefferson Airplane “Takes Off“). But The Youngbloods‘ version idealized its melody with their finely-twined harmonies. “I got a chill down my whole body,” Young said. “The song was became a hit in San Francisco!”

The Youngbloods’ second album was “Earth Music” and then, during the 1967 Summer of Love, The band all moved to the West Coast.

We played the Avalon [Ballroom, in San Francisco] and it was full of freaks and they all looked like Banana with the big hair. So we realized we could work there. Then we walked into this cheap motel and there’s this funny little radio built into the bed and I turn it on and there’s “Get Together.” Wow!.

When the time came for “Elephant Mountain” we had been on the West Coast for a year. Clearly, they needed a change if they were to survive, so in mid-’67, the band yanked up its roots and relocated from its then-current home of New York City  to the San Francisco Bay Area. There they found greater acceptance among the local rock aficionados, and set out to make their third album for RCA, which would be titled “Elephant Mountain” (named after an actual peak near Pt. Reyes Station in Marin County, north of San Francisco, where the band, now reduced to a trio with the departure of Corbitt, resided). With Charlie Daniels producing,

Images of wind, sunlight and mountains began to inform Young’s songs. “Love of the natural world is as much a theme in my music as romantic love,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s even more dominant. I got more out of walking over the ridge top in Marin and looking out at the national sea shore than any drugs I ever took.”

The inspiration that gave found full focus on the band’s third, and best, studio album, “Elephant Mountain”, released in 1969. featured the seminal tracks, At the same time, the band experienced a serious rupture. Corbett ditched the band three songs into recording ‘Elephant Mountain.’ The guitarist had developed a fear or flying, got into serious drugs, and also pined to focus on country-rock rather than The Youngbloods’ more eclectic mix. But instead of subverting the band, Corbitt’s parting opened them up to a new sound. Continuing as a spare trio allowed them to experiment, employing more improvisation to fill the space. The players were greatly encouraged in that regard by their producer, the later country-rock star Charlie Daniels. “He said to us ‘some bands need a push, and some need you to get out in front of them and say ‘woe,'” Young recalled. “‘But you guys just need me to be there.

The album, despite its underwhelming chart performance, gave The Youngbloods a large credibility boost it is considered not only the band’s finest but a sleeper classic from that era, with jazz-informed songs like “Ride the Wind,” “Sunlight,” kissed by a luminous melody and a rapturous lyric. “Darkness, Darkness,” (Mott The Hoople recorded their own haunted version for their 1971 album “Brain Capers“). A bad acid trip had inspired the song. “It put me in touch with terror,” Young said. “Later, I came to think of my friends in Vietnam. They live with this terror every night. After the war, we played a lot of veteran’s benefits. The veterans told me that ‘Darkness, Darkness’ and ‘Get Together’ were the songs that really got to them in that period. Other songs “Quicksand” and “Beautiful” receiving massive amounts of airplay on the FM rock stations of the day.

They released their next album, a live set called “Rock Festival”.

Informed by a sensibility finely attuned to the natural world. Young’s flexible tenor expressed unalloyed freedom, while the band played their instruments with supple care. Their 1971 live album, “Ride The Wind”, remains one of the greatest concert documents of the classic-rock era. The nine minute take on the title track remains the ultimate Youngbloods’ jam. “We were playing music at the edge of my learning curve,” Young said. “There’s not a lot of half-step chord changes in pop music. With that success in hand, the Youngbloods were able to launch their own RCA-distributed label, Raccoon Records.

No live album of the prime San Francisco era so perfectly captured the lightness of the scene. Appropriately, ‘Ride The Wind’ documents a free concert in the city’s park. “The most transformational thing about that scene was playing for free,” Young said. “You could pull a permit from the city for $100, get a flat bed truck, pull up in the pan handle of the park and people would come hear you play. Free music was like two halves of a great being meeting.”

After ‘Ride,’ the band released two more studio works, though neither captured their essence as sweetly as their previous work. Young went on to create solo albums with more elaborate instrumentation while still retaining his commitment to the character of Marin. Some observers have speculated that the reason The Youngbloods didn’t become bigger had to do with their home base in low-key Marin rather than in the city centre. Observers also believe the press’ snubbing of the band had to do with a prevailing critical bias against “mellow music” in favour of more aggressive sounds. Young isn’t sure about either of those things, but he does feel that one factor in the band’s low profile has to do with him being a reluctant performer. “I don’t feed on adulation,” he said, Young is simply content to have made a living in music. He’s also proud of the band’s catalogue

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The Breeders are an alternative rock band based in Dayton, Ohio, consisting of members Kim Deal (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), her twin sister Kelley Deal (lead guitar, vocals), Josephine Wiggs (bass guitar, vocals) and Jim Macpherson (drums). The Breeders’ history began when Kim Deal, not fulfilled in her subordinate role as bassist of the Pixies, began writing new material while the Pixies were touring “Surfer Rosa” in Europe with Throwing Muses. As neither band had plans in the immediate future, Deal discussed possible side projects with Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly. They recruited Carrie Bradley, violinist and vocalist in Boston band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, and recorded a short demo tape. Tracks on the demo tape included early versions of “Lime House”, “Doe”, and “Only in 3’s”.

To record their debut album, 1990’s “Pod”, Deal and Donelly recruited bassist Josephine Wiggs of The Perfect Disaster and drummer Britt Walford of Slint. Kim’s sister Kelley was brought into the band as a third guitarist (though at the time, Kelley famously had never played guitar before joining the band) in 1992 to record the “Safari” EP, and shortly thereafter Tanya Donelly left to concentrate full-time on her own new band, Belly, leaving Kelley Deal as the sole lead guitarist, while Britt Walford left as well around the same time. While the band’s first record wasn’t initially a commercial success, the band had developed a following among indie rock fans and praises from people such as Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who cited Pod as one of his all-time favourite albums, the band prepared to record their next album.

In 1993, the Pixies broke up, leaving Deal to concentrate on her band The Breeders as her full-time band. Kim recruited local Dayton, Ohio musician Jim Macpherson (previously a member of Dayton indie rock band The Raging Mantras) to replace the recently departed Walford on drums, cementing the Breeders‘ best-known line-up. Deal originally described the band as “the Bangles from Hell”

All of The Breeders’ previous albums –”Pod”, “Last Splash”, “Title TK”, and “Mountain Battles” were all re-issued on vinyl on this last summer.  This is the first time “Pod” and “Last Splash” on vinyl will be released by 4AD Records in North America.

The Breeders toured their latest album “All Nerve” 

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Pod

“Pod” the 1990 debut featuring the line-up of Pixie’s Kim Deal, Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, the Perfect Disaster’s Josephine Wiggs and Slint’s Britt Walford, was recorded with Steve Albini. A week of rehearsal took place at Wiggs’s house in Bedfordshire, and “Pod” was recorded in just ten days.  They used the remaining time to record a Peel Session and a video for “Hellbound”. Returning to London, they played two shows, the only time that this line-up ever appeared onstage together.

“Pod” although not commercially successful, received positive reviews from alternative and mainstream critics alike; The New York Times’ wrote: “The angular melodies, shattered tempos, and screeching dynamics recall elements of each of the women’s full-time bands, but “Pod” has a smart, innovative edge all its own, clever arrangements, “Pod” is a fresher and more successful work than the Pixies’ “Bossanova” and the Throwing Muses’ “Hunkpapa“, their main projects’ releases from around that time. The song “Doe” which according to Deal, is about a young couple making out and then wanting to burn down their town after taking the drug Thorazine.

Though the album doesn’t feature as many of Donelly’s contributions as was originally planned which was part of the reason she formed Belly a few years later — songs like “Iris” and “Lime House” blend the best of the Pixies’ elliptical punk and the Muses‘ more angular pop.

A bizarre entry in the band’s catalogue that shows the mark that Donnelly made on the band during her shorty tenure with them, as it was written by her and Kim originally for the group’s first demo. The track is a slow, dirgy and sad sounding number featuring a violin performance by Carrie Bradley.

Pod” reaffirms what a distinctive songwriter Deal is, and how much the Pixies missed out on by not including more of her material on their albums. With their unusual subjects — “Hellbound” is about a living abortion and quirky-but-direct sound, songs like “Opened” and “When I Was a Painter” could have easily fit on Doolittle or Bossanova. But the spare, sensual “Doe,” “Fortunately Gone,” and “Only in Threes” are more ligh thearted and good-natured than the work of Deal’s other band, pointing the way to the sexy, clever alternative pop she’d craft on “Last Splash”. A vibrantly creative debut, “Pod” remains the Breeders‘ most genuine moment.

Kurt Cobain listed the record as one of his top three favourite albums saying, “the way they structure [the songs] is totally unique.”  Critically acclaimed when it came out, “Pod’s” legacy lives on – Pitchfork called it a “blissful mindfuck of a record,” and ranked among their Best Albums of the 90s.

The Breeders - Safari

Safari EP

The members of The Breeders had returned to their original bands. The Pixies released “Bossanova” in 1990 and “Trompe le Monde” in 1991, but by the end of 1991 were becoming less active. Deal, again with time off from the Pixies, visited Wiggs in Brighton, and they went into a London studio with Spacemen 3/Spiritualized drummer Jon Mattock to record a new song called “Safari.”

Here the title track from the band’s debut EP released in 1992. Kelly was now established as a guitarist by this point and this is the only release to feature both her and Tanya Donnelly. It is another of the band’s more trippy tracks, with the latter half of it being largely instrumental and ideal for listening to on a safari trip! (In a weird kind of way.)

The other three tracks on what became the “Safari” EP were recorded in New York with Walford and Donelly, who was by then planning to form her own band BellyDeal then asked her sister Kelley to take over on guitar, even though apparently, Kelley did not know how to play guitar. The Pixies had became inactive in mid-1992, at which time drummer Jim Macpherson was recruited and The Breeders became a full-time band

The Breeders - Last Splash

Last Splash

The band’s most commercially successful album, “Last Splash“, was released in 1993 in the midst of the early 1990s alternative rock boom. The album went on to be certified platinum by the RIAA, and is best known for its hit single “Cannonball”.

“Last Splash” was recorded in 1993 by what is now regarded as the ‘classic’ Breeders line-up of Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson.  Including the twisted pop singles ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’,

The Breeders’ second album, “Last Splash”, turned them into the alternative rock stars joined by Deal’s twin sister Kelley the group expanded on the driving, polished sound of the “Safari” EP, surrounding its (plentiful) moments of brilliance with nearly as many unfinished ideas. When Last Splash is good, it’s great: “Cannonball’s” instantly catchy collage of bouncy bass, rhythmic stops and starts, and singsong vocals became one of the definitive alt-pop singles of the ’90s. Likewise, the sweetly sexy “Divine Hammer” that was released as a single. Like much of the album’s lyrical content, the lyrics are sexual in nature with the title reportedly referring to a certain male sexual organ. Musically, it is one of their more melodic and accessible, giving of a dreamy pop vibe, which makes the adult nature of the lyrics even more hard to understand at face value.

The swaggering “Saints” are among the Breeders’ finest moments.

“I Just Wanna Get Along” is a very short minute-and-a-half cut from “Last Splash” is reportedly about Kim and her bitterness towards Pixies front man Frank Black after the band’s breakup. In what is perhaps a clever attempt to disguise this fact, it is actually Kelly who performs the vocals on it. Whatever the case, it is a great track and Kim was certainly moving on from her previous band, even if the Pixies are still the band she is most associated with.

Similarly, the charming twang of “Drivin’ on 9,” The spiky punk-pop, and the bittersweet “Invisible Man” added depth that recalled the eclectic turns the band took on “Pod” while maintaining the slick allure of “Last Splash’s” hits. However, underdeveloped snippets such as “Roi” and “No Aloha” drag the album’s momentum, and when the band tries to stretch its range on the rambling, cryptic “Mad Lucas” and “Hag,” it tends to fall flat. The addition of playful but slight instrumentals such as “S.O.S” and “Flipside” and a version of “Do You Love Me Now?” as the title would suggest is a loved-themed song, but definitely not a schmaltzy one! Co-written by both of the Deal sisters, this song has a beautiful southern rock-tinged guitar sound which makes it a very relaxing track to listen to. Also, rather than being about madly in love, it is about a previous involvement with a man that Deal feels she can resume, although it would seem that that is probably not really the case. Still, its best moments and the Deal sisters’ megawatt charm make it one of the alternative rock era’s defining albums of the 90s.  

In 1993, they toured supporting Nirvana on their “In Utero” tour, In 1996, Kim reclaimed The Breeders moniker, but with essentially The Amps’ line-up plus violinist Carrie Bradley, and played a few California dates. They made an unsuccessful attempt at recording a third studio album in 1997. Kelley Deal re-joined the band the following year and wrote and recorded songs with her sister, although the only material released during this period was a cover of The Three Degrees‘ take on James Gang’s “Collage”, recorded for The Mod Squad soundtrack in 1999.

Head To Toe EP

“Head to Toe” is an extended play by the alternative rock band the Breeders. It was released in July 1994 on 4AD and Elektra Records. The EP contains a cover of Guided by Voices’ “Shocker in Gloomtown” which helped ignite interest in the band.  “Title TK” wouldn’t appear until 2002 but the three-song “Head to Toe” 7″ was produced by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis,

The set’s Sebadoh cover, “The Freed Pig.” According to legend, when the Breeders began playing Lou Barlow’s poison-pen classic in the studio, J Mascis didn’t even recognize the song and insisted the band record it; Kim Deal’s vocals lack the vitriol and pity of Barlow’s original, but the Breeders‘ version is compact and explosive, This track was later re-released along with the rest of its tracks as part of the bonus material on the album’s twentieth anniversary reissue.

It is a very good version of the song that the band have put their own spin on and made it sound like their own.

Indeed all three songs here capture a punk-inspired aggression further explored on Deal’s Amps project. “Head to Toe” is the sole original track, a wonderfully primitive sonic whiplash.

The Breeders - Title Tk

Title TK

2002’s “Title TK” saw the band work with Steve Albini once more, with the Guardian saying it was “a welcome return to punky pop that knows how to flex some melodic muscle.”  The album has been out of print on vinyl since its release. By the end of the decade, hearing new material from Kim Deal and company seemed about as likely as a new My Bloody Valentine album, so the fact that “Title TK”, their long-awaited return, exists at all seems more than a little miraculous. In a weird way, the long, long wait for them to resurface works in their favour at this point, it was a welcome to hear anything from them. After a nine-year (!) wait, a new Breeders album is just a nice addition to what’s going on in indie rock instead of its salvation. From its very name, “Title TK” (journalistic shorthand for “title to come”) reflects this: it’s a surprisingly low-key, self-effacing return that doesn’t feel like an attempt at reclaiming “Last Splash’s” glory. Instead, it blends the stripped-down sounds of Pod and the Amps’ “Pacer” into a collection of strangely intimate, feminine garage rock.

Revved-up guitar rushes like “Little Fury” and “Huffer” have a little vulnerability lurking around the edges, and on the sweet “Too Alive,” it sounds like you’re in the garage with the band. There’s a fascinating duality to “Title TK”, from the way that nearly every song mixes and blends Kim’s and Kelley’s not-quite-identical vocals to the way it switches between sweet, playfully spiky songs like “Son of Three” This track has two versions- the original which was composed and sung by Kim was recorded in Hollywood, and then the re-recording of it which was done for it to be released as the album’s third European single. The re-recording, which is better because it is shorter, faster and has more of a live feel. When it was released it reached number seventy-two on the UK Singles chart.

“Forced to Drive” and dark, mysterious tracks. With its brooding, druggy allure, “The She” recalls Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and “Put On a Side” and the aptly named “Sinister Foxx” have a sexy menace that the Breeders haven’t explored since, “Off You,” Title TK’s first single, is about as far from “Cannonball” as the band can get, a dreamy, breathy ballad that sounds intimate but masks its feelings in beautifully cryptic imagery.

The Breeders - Mountain Battles

Mountain Battles

“Mountain Battles” was released in April 2008 again on 4AD records. It features Kim and Kelley, Jose Medeles, and Mando Lopez. They went to Refraze Recording Studio in Dayton, Ohio to record and mix the majority of the tracks , Their fourth album release “Mountain Battles”, a perfectly formed album of 13 miniatures in 36 minutes engineered by Steve Albini, was originally released in 2008.  Like “Title TK” before it, “Mountain Battles” has been out of print since its release.

It only took the Breeders a little under six years to deliver the follow-up to “Title TK”, which is progress, considering that it was nearly a decade between that album and “Last Splash”, and especially since Kim Deal was occupied with the Pixies reunion for a couple of those years. “Mountain Battles” sounds like progress, too: while all Breeders albums have, in varying proportions, a mix of whip-smart pop songs, droning rockers, and experimental tangents, the blend of these sounds hasn’t sounded this satisfying since the “Pod” days. Deal and her crew aren’t making a big pop push à la “Last Splash”, and they don’t sound as defiant as they did on “Title TK” — but, as on that album, “Mountain Battles” feels like the band are doing exactly what they want and not worrying too much about what anyone else thinks about it. “It’s the Love,” the song most like the Breeders‘ quintessential sweet-but-tart punk-pop, is actually a cover of fellow Dayton band the Tasties, and Kim’s delivery is so cheeky that it almost feels like she’s affectionately sending up that sound. “It’s the Love” is placed next to the album’s oddest song, which happens to be the title track and finale: full of murky keyboards and a melody that plays hide-and-seek, “Mountain Battles” sounds unfinished and unsettling.

Yet there are a lot of other sounds between those extremes, including “Bang On’s” distorted drums and witty guitars, which prove that Deal is still as skilled at pop collages as she was during “Cannonball’s” heyday; “German Studies” and “Walk it Off” should also please “Last Splash” fans craving more of Deal’s sassy pop.

However, the flirty, slow-dance cover of “Regalame Esta Noche,” which shows off the pure beauty of her voice; the percussive, call-and-response jam “Istanbul,” and “Here No More,” a country number so simple and effortless it feels like it could be a cover, make “Mountain Battles” eclectic and even a bit daring. Deal’s willingness to let the album’s songs take their own paths is even more daring; from “Overglazed” impressionistic rock, which opens “Mountain Battles” with stampeding drums and cascading vocals, to the wandering, surf-tinged ballad “Night of Joy,” many tracks feel open-ended and sometimes downright elusive. But, even if “Spark” remains little more than a moody sketch and “We’re Gonna Rise” moves as slowly as dust turning in a sunbeam, they add to “Mountain Battles” ebb and flow, with each song playing off the other naturally. And, though the album covers a lot of territory — 13 songs in 36 minutes! — it doesn’t feel scattered; scattered implies no purpose, but “Mountain Battles‘ songs land, eventually, exactly where they need to.

Fate to Fatal EP

Like every other Breeders record before it, “Fate to Fatal” opener kills all brute force and giddy charm, the eponymous leadoff track is the Breeders at their most jarring and most exuberant, with churning power-chords beating out a kinda rhythm for the Deal gals to holler and shout over. But, oh, when they move from a scream to a whisper and back again, does it ever sound good. The Deals singing in tandem make one of the great noises in rock, and when you throw ’em all over a tune this kinetic, this heady, this pleasure, it just couldn’t feel more right.

The Breeders’ third EP, “Fate to Fatal” was released on April 2009. It contains a Bob Marley cover (“Chances Are”) and a song with vocals by Screaming Tree’s Mark Lanegan. The title track was recorded at The Fortress Studios, London, by The Go! Team producer Gareth Parton. The music video featured the Arch Rival Roller Girls, a St. Louis roller derby league

The Breeders - All Nerve

All Nerve

“All Nerve”, the Breeders’ fifth studio album, saw the iconic line-up of Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson reunite for the first time since the release of the platinum-selling album “Last Splash”. Released in 2018, critics and fans welcomed them back with open arms and they scored their highest chart positions – including top 10 in the UK – in 25 years.

The Breeders have always moved to their own rhythms, starting, stopping, and surprising listeners along the way. New music from them only arrives when the time is right, and in “All Nerve’s” case, it was especially right: in 2013, Kim and Kelley Deal reunited with drummer Jim McPherson and bassist Josephine Wiggs to tour as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of their breakthrough album, “Last Splash”, and the dates went so well that the band went into the studio.

At times, “All Nerve” does hark back to 1993. The way “Nervous Mary” slowly draws listeners into the album before kicking into high gear is a classic Breeders move. “Spacewoman,” with its sun-soaked imagery and loud-quiet-loud dynamic shifts, is a power ballad made for the mosh pit, while the tender to roaring “All Nerve” is the kind of plainspoken song about a big, big love that has always been one of Kim Deal’s specialties. Then there’s “Wait in the Car,” one of the band’s most irresistible singles. As Deal fails to find the right words and meows while the guitars strut and tumble, it’s brashly charming and proves the Breeders haven’t lost the ability to make their audience wish they could be best friends with them.

However, “All Nerve” isn’t so much a conscious attempt to re-create the past as it is the rekindling of a special chemistry. That chemistry is especially strong when the Breeders try new things. Wiggs gets her first lead vocal on an album track with “MetaGoth,” and her unflappable cool gives it a dark, restless post-punk beauty that isn’t like anything else in the Breeders’ songbook. Meanwhile, “Dawn: Making an Effort” is as vast and hopeful as a sunrise, with an openness. The band even finds creative ways of dealing with the feelings of mortality and history that accompany this kind of reunion on “Walking with a Killer,” a deceptively pretty tale of murder in the cornfields, and “Blues at the Acropolis,” which superimposes modern junkies and drunks with dead heroes of the past.

The decade-long gap between “All Nerve” and “Mountain Battles” was the Breeders‘ longest hiatus yet, but it was time well spent — this is one of the band’s finest blends of sugar and swagger, space and noise. “All Nerve” lives up to its name: the Breeders’ one-of-a-kind toughness and vulnerability are the heart of their music, and that it’s still beating strong is cause for celebration.

All Nerve reunites the band the line-up behind the iconic and platinum-selling record, “Last Splash”.  Recording took place at Candyland in Dayton, Kentucky, with Mike Montgomery; Electrical Audio, Chicago, with Steve Albini and Greg Norman. Artwork was conceived by Chris Bigg, who has worked with The Breeders since their first album, “Pod”.

The single, “Wait in the Car”, was released on October 2017, and is part of an upcoming seven-inch series to be issued by 4AD. The song will be available on three different seven-inch records, limited to only 1,500 copies. Rolling Stone described the song as “a classic Breeders bruiser, clocking it at two minutes, and packed with punchy drums, sugar-rush power chords, and lead riffs”. ‘Wait in the Car’ marks the welcome reunion the quartet returned to the stage in 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their platinum-selling record “Last Splash” and have since been spending time together in the studio working on new material.  The two-minute ‘Wait In The Car’ offers an enticing preview to a band who are still as vital and relevant as ever.

Richard Ayoade, the BAFTA-nominated film director (Submarine, The Double), actor (IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), TV presenter (Travel Man, The Crystal Maze) and comedian, has been a long-time fan of The Breeders. As a young teen in 1990, Ayoade recalls travelling from his Ipswich home to London to buy the band’s first album Pod.  Nearly 30 years after making that journey, he has teamed up with his favourite band to create an eerie short story for their latest single, ‘Space Woman’.

Described by The Breeders’ Kim Deal as “a sci-fi thriller with the soul of [deceased fiction writer] Harlan Ellison,” Ayoade’s visual treatment depicts Deal in a spacesuit navigating a woodland landscape.  Shot on 35mm film and in one seamless take, she encounters fellow Breeders members Jim Macpherson, Josephine Wiggs and Kelley Deal in various states of trauma.

“As vital as any of their previous four LPs…The Breeders have proved themselves more consistently thrilling than almost any other band in indie-rock.”  – Uncut 9/10
“From the off, “All Nerve” is both a joyous, unhinged blast from the past and a reminder of how fun and free rock can be.” – The Sunday Times – Album of the Week
“Music that is rich and deep and repays repeated listening.” – The Guardian – Album of the Week ****
“It’s an enormously pleasant surprise to have the band back.”  – NPR
“A twisted, swirling record of gorgeous harmony set against catapulting rhythms and just the right balance of body-horror lyricism that stands firmly on its own..”  – Under The Radar
“Heroic”  – MOJO **** 
“Startlingly fresh.” – Q **** 

The Breeders “All Nerve”, was the group’s first record in a decade. In March 2021, the band released their first new recording in over three years: A cover of His Name is Alive’s “The Dirt Eaters.” The cover was part of a 4AD Records covers compilation, entitled “Bills and Aches and Blues“.

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A freshly minted reissue of The Band’s debut album, released as celebration of that record’s 50th birthday, was an absolute guarantee even before it was announced a few months’ back. It’s one of the most venerated rock records of the Woodstock era, analyzed to the level of work by Bob Dylan, the artist that this Canadian-American group backed for his first electric tours. And hearing it even today, the love for “Music From Big Pink” feels entirely justified. The Band crystallized a sound that groups like The Byrds and the Grateful Dead had been wrestling with for years: a muscular production informed by blues, soul, folk and country (a.k.a. the roots of American rock) that stayed true to all of the above genres and felt sharply original.

This new collection blows up the sound of Big Pink to THX levels via a stereo remix by beloved engineer Bob Clearmountain. To drive the point home, they’ve split the original LP up over four sides of vinyl to be played at 45 RPM. Clearmountain’s touch is surprisingly tasteful at times, emphasizing the album’s copious bottom end driven by Rick Danko’s fluttering bass lines, Levon Helm’s kick drum and the swarming organ parts played by Garth Hudson, while adding a healthy gleam to the whole thing. But when his hand gets heavy, it injects a feeling of sterility to some of the most vibrant sounds to come out of the ‘60s. And not just the strange injection of some studio chatter between a few tracks. “The Weight,” inarguably the best known song from this disc, feels pulled apart like taffy, losing much of the spirited energy of the original mix. The same goes for the two Dylan tunes (“This Wheel’s On Fire” and “I Shall Be Released”) that wrap up the album. Hudson’s clavinet interjections lose their quaint charm and become almost obnoxious and The Band sounds less like a band and more like a bunch of studio players seeking a paycheck instead of musical enlightenment.

The year 1968 is often regarded as the most turbulent time in our history as a nation. Pop culture of that year tended to reflect the rage felt by America’s youth over the developments of the day. This was well represented in the music found on albums like Electric Ladyland, Beggars Banquet, and through ground breaking musicals like Hair. But an album considered among many to be the best of the year, “Music From Big Pink”, was somehow able to indirectly capture that spirit by leveraging themes and musical concepts that are inherently “American.” This was done in a manner that was clever, thoughtful, approachably complex, and remarkably calm and measured.

Fifty years later the music found on “Big Pink” remains fresh and equally riveting. So it was only fitting that to celebrate this milestone, band member Robbie Robertson would lead a charge to use modern technologies to “revisit” the record and some of its better known outtakes. Working with legendary engineer Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones) he is about to introduce a remix that lifts the sonic quality of the record without sacrificing any of its integrity. The result is a musical experience that feels contemporary and clean with an expanded sense of dimension.

It’s been a busy year for Robbie Robertson. Just last month he auctioned off the 1965 Fender Stratocaster that he and Bob Dylan famously shared and that Robbie used on the “Big Pink”. Robbie listened in wonder as he described as only he can, how “Music From Big Pink”was put to tape and why it continues to influence scores of musicians. 

When this came out, records were still coming out in mono and stereo. And so these very definitive decisions had to be made. There was something exciting about that. Coming back to it, Clearmountain wanted to be extremely loyal to these recordings. He wasn’t interested in getting cute and putting special effects on things. He just wanted to give it more dimension and open it up in a way where you could hear more things, more detail than you ever could before. He nailed that. It was exciting all over again for me to revisit it with him.

When we went in to record “Big Pink”, we wanted to work at A&R studios in New York. That was known as the best sounding studio around and John Simon, our producer, really wanted us to work there. It had been the old Columbia Studio where some many great things were done. Phil Ramone at that time had taken it over and turned it around. So we go in and the engineers tell us where to set up and we do what they say because we want this to sound as good as it possibly can. We go into the first song and all of a sudden I have to stop everything. I said, “I’m sorry this doesn’t work for us at all.” They were like, “What do you mean? What’s wrong?” I said, “We can’t play like this. We need to see one another.” There are baffles, and I’m in one corner and he’s over there and we’re operating through headphones when we usually communicate the eye signals, and gestures, and looks. It’s a big part of our musical communication.

The first song we recorded for “Big Pink” ended up being the first song on the record, “Tears of Rage.” When I think about it now, it was a very personal thing and it’s just coming back to me now that the record company was saying, “You really want to start your record with a long slow song?” And we said “I guess, yeah!” In the studio we started to run through it a little bit and were kinda getting use to the sound in the room and the next thing John Simon says is, “Wow, I’m really liking this.” So we ran it down, we recorded it a couple of times and then John said we should come in and listen to it to see if there were any adjustments we wanted to make. We went into the control room and that was the first time we heard the sound of The Band. That was our sound. It was us for the first time witnessing it. We had made lots of music with Bob Dylan and with The Hawks. But this was a whole different flavour. 

To do a song like “Key to the Highway” and it not be a shuffle was almost illegal. We took it and turned it inside out. It was something that I was feeling at the time. I said to Levon (Helm), “How does this feel to you?” And I played the rhythm in the way we did it for him. He said, “Man, let’s give it a shot!” But we were quite aware of some blues enthusiasts who thought that doing in that way with that boldness was almost a sacrilege and I like that!

That record, “Music From Big Pink”, was like rebelling against the rebellion, and the rebellion was this loud psychedelia, everything on 11. This was about going the opposite direction and trying to get just as much emotion out of the music as possible.

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It’s a body of work way too impressive to just dip into half-heartedly. All five albums and three EP’s provide essential listening. 1981’s “From The Lion’s Mouth” and the following year’s response to their record label, “All Fall Down“, a kind of Kid A of the early 80s, are their absolute best, but all of them are beautiful pieces of work, devoid of deserving attention, but totally essential. There’s a lot of music here. You should go and listen to it yourself, the band were massively under-rated but totally essential, The Sound are one of the most important UK rock bands of the 1980s with an almost perfect back catalogue waiting to tell you its story.

Their real debut was the album “Propaganda” released so late to honour Borland’s tragic death in 1999. It has seeds of classic punk, which they had later encapsulated in “Jeopardy” very juvenile, but at the same time incredibly moving and sincere release, a simple’s man “Joy Division” of sorts, which is a good thing, because unpretentiousness & fragile honesty is what made The Sound so relatable. Suffice to say, it’s indicative of all the post-punk aesthetics – fear of oneself amidst social insensitivity.

Though it doesn’t mean, that Borland hasn’t ever tried something epic and monumental, akin to Ian Curtis universal mindset. Bootleg “The Korova Demos” contained the yet not officially released song “Falling Boy”, showcasing Adrian’s endeavors at goth rock. He tried something similar with “Skeletons” with some of the most stylish song’s bridges and bass lines in all of the post-punk and surprisingly grandiose “The New Dark Age”, especially considering that the album “From The Lion’s Mouth” has fruits of Curtis approach to symbolism: similar to Joy Division’s “Closer” cover art uses ancient imagery, namely “Daniel in the Lions’ den” painting, to underline hope as a main theme of this release.

There’s also a documentary on Borland’s life currently in production.

Jeopardy

Jeopardy” is a gloomy, skeletal post-punk album that’s frequently compared to Joy Division, but it’s really so much more than that and it’s too unique to live in Joy Division’s shadow. It’s kind of somewhere between a catchier Joy Division and rawer, punkier Cure, but even that undersells it. One listen to “I Can’t Escape Myself” is all it takes to hear how special The Sound really were. The song is in a constant state of nervous tension — the perfect musical backdrop to the inner demons that inspired the lyrics — and when Adrian finally erupts for the “I-aaaaayeee” on the titular line, it’s like the earth shakes beneath you. The Sound was truly post-punk in that Adrian brought over all that punk energy from The Outsiders, and it really came through when he let himself belt it. (And The Sound were still pretty much a punk band when they first formed, as heard on their three-song debut 1979 EP Physical World and their scrapped 1979 album Propaganda, which was released in 1999.)

As with The Outsiders’ “Close Up“, the best song on Jeopardy is the first song, but it’s full of other great moments, like the punk-ish “Heartland” and “Words Fail Me,” the super catchy “Heyday” (which was released as a single), the glistening title track, the brooding album closer “Desire,” and much more.

Originally recorded by Borland’s previous group The Outsiders and included on The Sound’s debut album “Jeopardy“, “Missiles” was his dramatic highlight was also the showpiece of their live set. The version included on their live album “In The Hot House” shows off what an incendiary live act The Sound were. Borland’s protest about missiles “Who the hell makes those missiles / when you know what they can do?” is accompanied by slashes of post punk guitar doom and a bullet sharp rhythm section. Live, they extended to the track to around the ten minute mark allowing Borland’s impassioned protests against the weapons of destruction to spiral thrillingly out of control.

The album got a perfect score from NME, Sounds, and Melody Maker upon its release, and it’s not hard to hear why it was praised so highly at the time. (It is hard to figure out how it was praised that highly yet feels so obscure today, though.) This was genuinely ground breaking music in 1980, and even today, it sounds refreshing. Especially with yet another post-punk revival happening at the moment, “Jeopardy” feels like an album that could come out right now and win plenty of people over.

From the Lions Mouth

After the well-received “Jeopardy”, The Sound’s label Korova (which was also home to Echo & the Bunnymen, who The Sound also opened for at the time) gave them a bigger budget for their sophomore album, 1981’s “From the Lions Mouth“, and keyboardist Belinda Marshall was replaced by former Cardiacs member Colvin “Max” Mayers. Max brought a fuller, new wavier style to The Sound, which paired with the clearer production resulted in an all-around more accessible album than “Jeopardy“. I’m kind of partial to the bare-bones sound of “Jeopardy“, but “From the Lions Mouth” which was once again met with rave reviews is an overall stronger record. There’s no single song as show-stopping as “I Can’t Escape Myself” but it’s a more consistent album with potential hit after potential hit. “Jeopardy” was built to be a cult classic, but “From the Lions Mouth” really sounds like it could’ve made The Sound as big as the Bunnymen, The Cure or even U2.

On opener “Winning,” Adrian rivals Robert Smith at his most desperate, while the driving goth rock of “Skeletons” gave the New Order singles from that same year a run for their money. Those are just two of the many highlights — this album seriously does not let up.

This should’ve been the crossover hit. Urgent, slightly threatening and with the right amount of bombast, U2 – arguably listening pretty closely at the time – should have been sued for their blatant pilferage of it on their 1983 album War. Their track “Two Hearts Beat As One” in particular is the work of Borland in all but name, but it’s without the emotional lyrical poetry of this number – could Bono ever come up with something as hopelessly desolate as “I’ll take my life into my own hands / I’m the one that I will blame / I’m the one who understands” and make it as catchy as this?.

All Fall Down

For their third album, The Sound moved up to Korova’s parent label WEA, and as legend has it, the label gave them an even bigger budget and was really wanting them to make something even more accessible than “From the Lions Mouth” (in the documentary, Duran Duran is frequently brought up as an example of what the label wanted The Sound to sound like). Adrian wasn’t having it, and he took that budget and came out with 1982’s “All Fall Down“, which was apparently a blatant attempt to make something anti-commercial. The label wasn’t happy and they dropped the band, and apparently the album didn’t get such great reviews either, but it really isn’t the total misstep that it’s often made out to be.

It’s darker than From the Lions Mouth and certainly nothing like Duran Duran, but it’s still structured and accessible and just a great gothy post-punk record. Its brooding, opening title track is the weirdest it gets, and if you want to hear The Sound at their gothiest, that’s a great place to start. The rest of the record is classic The Sound, and pretty on par with either of their first two LPs.

Shock Of Daylight

Whilst The Sound may never have matched the commercial success of their peers, the group are frequently hailed as one of the greatest bands of the 1980s and have a cult following to this day.

After the uncommercial sound of their “All Fall Down” album, 1984’s “Shock Of Daylight” was seen by many as a triumphant comeback for the band and a return to form. It includes some of the Sound’s best recordings including the singles “Counting The Days” and “Golden Soldiers“.

Perhaps their best track, and certainly their funkiest. Released on the EP Shock of Daylight, it contains some of Borland’s bleakest lyrics, cleverly masked behind a feiry punk-pop tune, the kind absent mindly hummed by the masses without knowing the kind of artistic despair that gave birth to it (“Looks like an open road / what’s up ahead / with opened arms, I’m frightened too / looks like a new way of life, takes me away from you”). The surging synths and transcendent guitar solo that follows evokes images of a lost soul trying desperately to find a glimmer of light within the oppressive darkness of reality, but ultimately failing.

Probably the most anxious thing they recorded with Borland at his most tormented: “I’ve arrived at the point somewhere in between / the person that I wanted to be and the person I’ve been”. It’s backed with one of the best performances of the band as a whole. The furious pianos and chiming guitars which predate the shoegaze sound by at least five years, are underpinned by some of the greatest rock drumming of all time (Listen to the clanking percussion of Radiohead’s “Reckoner”, then head to this track – there’s severe lineage).

Again, “All Fall Down” is not a misstep, but there was an undeniable feeling that The Sound had something to “come back” from, given WEA dropping them and the lukewarm reviews, and they did just that with 1984’s “Shock of Daylight” EP. It was the tightest, most confident, and most energized that The Sound had ever sounded. It had the punk power of “Jeopardy“, the bigger and more accessible sound of “From the Lions Mouth“, and some of the most immediate songs in the band’s catalogue (“Golden Soldiers,” “Counting the Days”). It’s just a brief six songs, but it’s among the band’s finest work and is as essential as any of their full-lengths. It also set the stage for what would become The Sound’s only real-time live album, 1985’s essential “In the Hothouse“.

The Sound were a fantastic live band from the start; while some gloomy post-punk bands were known for giving the cold shoulder to the audience on stage, The Sound rocked the fuck out. “Regardless of what was happening [in his personal life], he went on stage and became a different person,” said a member of Adrian’s solo band the Citizens in Walking in the Opposite Direction. He battled so many demons and his lyrics could be highly introverted, but on stage he was a magnetic performer who always played to the people in the cheap seats. “In the Hothouse” and videos from the band’s mid ’80s era capture this perfectly.

The Sound – Live in Madrid 1984

1985 also brought a new full-length studio album, “Heads and Hearts“, and unfortunately, this was around the time Adrian’s mental health started to take a big hit. One more album came after that (1987’s “Thunder Up“), and The Sound ended up calling it quits the following year. The last two albums are good, as almost everything Adrian touched was, but you get the sense that the band kind of knew they were falling apart, and the untamed urgency of the earlier records isn’t quite there.

In The Hothouse

Whilst The Sound may never have matched the commercial success of their peers, the group are frequently hailed as one of the greatest bands of the 1980s and have a cult following to this day.

Recorded at the Marquee Club across two August nights in 1985, “In The Hothouse” is the only live album released whilst the band were still active. The set draws on highlights from the group’s back catalogue as well as material from “Heads And Hearts” which had been released a few months earlier.

Pressed on two 140 gram clear vinyl and housed in a deluxe replica gatefold sleeve and printed inner sleeves.

Counting The Days

Formed in south London in 1979, the Sound fronted by singer-songwriter Adrian Borland. Whilst the Sound may never have matched the commercial success of their peers, the group are frequently hailed as one of the greatest bands of the 1980s and have a cult following to this day. Issued in 1986, ‘Counting The Days’ was the sole compilation released during the band’s years together and gathers together tracks from their acclaimed releases “Shock Of Daylight”, “Heads And Hearts” and “In The Hothouse“. The complete collection is now issued on vinyl for the very first time, pressed on two 180g clear vinyl.

Thunder Up

The final testament of the tragically underrated (at least in their own time) The Sound, whose best albums (the first three) would make any admirer of moody-broody Mancunian pop blush with shame for missing out on this band’s dark treasures during their short existence.
Regarded as their masterpiece by several of the band members, “Thunder Up” is the rawest account of Borland’s inner turmoil in terms of lyrical content while also being the band’s most conventional sounding. It is hard to ignore the gauzy, reverb-drenched late 80s overproduction. The Sound really benefited from a more minimalist approach when capturing their unique sense of ennui, a feeling of unrest that never fully boils into rage but simmers at a pitch of melancholic contempt. The most obvious detail that distracts the ears, particularly in terms of production, is the use of pre-set synth sounds.

Thunder Up” was the fifth and final studio album by the post-punk band, released in 1987 on Belgian record label Play It Again Sam.

Two singles were released from the album: “Hand of Love” and “Iron Years”. The album and its subsequent tour precipitated the band’s breakup in early 1988. Like the Sound’s previous records, the album was not commercially successful, but the band largely considered it to be their best work.

Thunder Up” was a favourite among Sound band members. Drummer Michael Dudley named it as one of his favourite Sound albums (along with “Propaganda“), while Graham Bailey called it the band’s “crowning glory”. In a 1988 interview, frontman Adrian Borland said, “Ultimately I find “Thunder Up” the very best album, because it sounds like the band ‘live’ in the studio and, in a way, it actually was”

Back in the 80s, tiny indie rock acts having one off Top 20 hits were a regular occurrence. The likes of The Railway Children, Lotus Eaters, Brilliant and Dream Academy all managed to have genuine crossover hits, only to disappear as quickly as they appeared. These were bands who were quietly going about their business, but once success struck, they were all derailed by record label demand.  “Kinetic” of course wasn’t a hit, but if it was released as a single, then maybe the subsequent future of the band after the failure of the parent album of this track may have panned out differently. It’s shiny, bright and almost optimistic.

Whereas in earlier Sound albums, they always managed to develop evocatively chilly synth sounds to match the specific mood of each song (the best example being the palette used in their existential masterpiece “Silent Air” from The Lion’s Mouth), most of the keyboard tones used here sound like they were shaped in a Casio factory. Of course, it should be noted that this album is a contemporary of late 80’s Cure, a discography replete with ridiculous but effective synthetic horn sections (thinking of “Why Can’t I Be You” in particular). Robert Smith’s manic whimsy somehow makes up for those embarrassing synth pre-sets. But if there is one topic that The Sound is not known for exploring, it is manic whimsy. Borland does not take on different characters or experiment with irony; he can only express his own misery from his own point of view, which is why this band is so great, but it also means that their sound can come of as brittle when drenched with glossy production.

On the 26th of April 1999, Adrian Borland, a man who had spent a significant part of his adult life dealing with manic depression, took the decision to end his own life.

The signs had been there for the best part of two decades, be they behavioural or lyrical. The lyrics Adrian Borland composed for his bands The Outsiders, Second Layer, or with his greatest artistic achievement, the South London 80’s post-punk pop outfit The Sound, were a glimpse into a troubled mind set to music. One of the first lines to “I Can’t Escape Myself”, the opening track on their debut LP “Jeopardy“, lays it out there for all to see: “Left all alone, I’m with the one I most fear / I’m sick and tired of reasoning / Just want to break out, shake off this skin”.

ADRIAN BORLAND & THE CITIZENS

Around the same time as The Sound’s demise, Adrian played guitar (under the pseudonym Joachim Piment) for the experimental rock band Honolulu Mountain Daffodils, he did some production work (including on Felt’s 1989 album Me and a Monkey on the Moon), and then he began his solo career as Adrian Borland & the Citizens with 1989’s “Alexandria“. It marked a fairly major departure from The Sound and went into brighter jangle pop and alternative rock territory, both of which suited Adrian’s song writing style just fine. As ever, when he opened his mouth to sing, you felt it. “Alexandria” is a little more light hearted on the surface than The Sound, but Adrian’s distinct style makes it more than that. It’s joyful on the surface, but haunted at its core. It’s an album that couldn’t have come from anyone else.

Adrian’s solo career continued into the ’90s, first with the even more joyous (and polished) 1992 album “Brittle Heaven“, and then with the more ethereal, dream pop-leaning “Beautiful Ammunition” (1994), the folkier “Cinematic” (1995), and the little-bit-of-everything “5:00 AM” (1997).

It’s all good and all very worth hearing, but perhaps the most stunning album he made in the ’90s was the one that was cut short when he took his own life, “Harmony and Destruction“. He was working on it in 1999 and it found him diving a little deeper into psychedelic rock than he ever really had before, and he had to have known it’d be the last thing he ever did. Apparently he felt like his medication was hindering his performance in the studio and he stopped taking it, despite his bandmates and producer telling him otherwise, and ultimately Adrian decided it was time for him to leave us, before the album was done.

Thankfully, he had done vocals for all 14 songs on the album and his bandmates and producer were able to finish it, and it came out posthumously as “Harmony and Destruction (The Unfinished Journey)” in 2002. From the jammy psychedelia of “Forever From Here” to the melancholic folk of “Startime,” it covers so much musical ground, and it features some of the most powerful material in Adrian’s rich catalogue. The song that’ll really stop you in your tracks, though, is the hidden track, “Death Of A Star.” “How do you feel when a star dies?” Adrian asks in the lyrics, and maybe he wasn’t talking about himself, but it’s hard to hear it any other way.

You can really spend a lifetime digging into Adrian’s work (I can’t even claim to have heard every single thing he’s released, and more stuff keeps coming out — 2019 saw another posthumous release, Lovefield), and once you get sucked into his world, every new thing you hear by him starts to hit immediately. Maybe those mid ’90s solo albums aren’t as essential for casual fans as The Sound’s classic early ’80s material, but once you get deep into his work, you just can’t stop exploring, and his catalogue is almost always rewarding. It’s that voice. As soon as you hear it, even when it’s a song you had never heard before, it feels comfortingly familiar. Adrian was the kind of talent you only get a few times in each generation.

Despite releasing six albums in their lifetime, The Sound remain one of the great unheard bands of the 80s. This goes with the underground territory, of course, but what exactly is the sound of The Sound? There was much in common with Korova label-mates, Echo and the Bunnymen, with Adrian Borland’s vocals falling somewhere between Ian McCulloch and The Comsat Angels’ Steve Fellows. And if you need further comparisons, it’s broadly similar to other early 80s alternative acts like the Teardrop Explodes and Mancunian underground doomsters, The Chameleons.

The Walking in the Opposite Direction documentary features interviews with Adrian’s family members, bandmates, producers, and significant others, and it really does a great job of showing what a fascinating and troubled life Adrian lived. It’s full of fantastic live footage and all kinds of intriguing insight into Adrian’s music and personal life. Interviewees describe some of Adrian’s scariest episodes, but the documentary is full of fond memories as well. It’s clear that the people who were closest to him thought so highly of Adrian as an artist, and that music was truly so important to him. “His music was more important to him than his health,” his father said.

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Jack White’s label Third Man Records has already put the final album by the White Stripes back in circulation through their subscription-only Vault Series, packaging the 2007 release with a double-LP set of demos and tracks from the same sessions. This new edition is just the original LP, as it was originally released on vinyl, right down to the sticker placed in such a spot that it needs to be cut through to access the actual records. It’s a cute little trick but will surely leave collectors drooling over whether they can safely peel it off without it tearing or whether cutting into the album’s resale value will be worth it. Whatever your feelings on the matter are, it’s great to have the ultimate statement by Jack and Meg White brought back to the format that serves their high-wattage garage blues antics best.

The White Stripes seemed to have wandered far afield of the nervy electric blues of their breakthrough album “Elephant” with 2005’s gloomy “Get Behind Me Satan“. Then came “Icky Thump”, their last blast of garage-band glory.

This return-to-form LP arrived on June 15th, 2007, It couldn’t have had less in common with “Get Behind Me Satan”, which sold about half as much as 2003’s “Elephant” – a platinum smash that featured “Seven Nation Army.” The experience seemed to have stung singer/guitarist Jack White, who developed a newfound appreciation for remaining true to one’s roots.

“I told someone that one of these new songs could be an old 45 of ours,” White admitted in a 2007 talk with the New York Times. “And they said, would you want the Beatles to have ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ on the White Album? And I said, yeah, I would love that — what would be wrong with that?”

With “Icky Thump”, White’s stinging guitar moved forward where pianos and light orchestral arrangements once were. Tough, blues-inflected songs replaced the quiet balladry that dominated Get Behind Me Satan.

Credit must also go to a year spent on the road with White’s other band, the Raconteurs. The time away seemed to have sharpened his riffs to a razor’s edge – even as it loosened him up. “Rag and Bone,” a talking-blues in the style of John Lee Hooker, boldly recalled the White Stripes‘ fizzy initial successes, while “Little Cream Soda” grew out of an on-stage improvisation.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)” howled with an open-hearted, country-soul rawness, while two tracks (“Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew”) featured a bagpipe. The White Stripes converted a video treatment by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry into a finished song (“I’m Slowly Turning Into You”), and even included a mariachi-driven cover of Patti Page’s “Conquest.”

“When it comes to the songs themselves, the songs are in charge – not me,” White told Reuters in 2007. “Take a song like ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told).’ That was pretty much a country song in my mind. If I really was in control I could have just said, ‘Hey, how dare you allow electric guitar and heavy organ on there,’ but I don’t do that. I let the song tell me what it wants.”

Recorded over three weeks with drummer Meg White in Nashville, “Icky Thump” also arrived as they made a seemingly uncomfortable shift to a major label. Hints came in the selection of “Conquest,” but also the subtext of this album’s gnarled title track – their first-ever Top 40 single. Both seemed to point to lingering trust issues for the White Stripes, those heroes of garage-rock outsider-dom. “Icky Thump” is “about people using other people,” White said in 2007. “The theme is ‘Who’s using who?'”

As with many bands who came before them, it seemed the White Stripes‘ long-awaited success simply created more pressure. “Icky Thump” scored a career-best but, like “Get Behind Me Satan“, that didn’t match the million-LP sales of “Elephant” or 2001’s “White Blood Cells“. An accompanying tour was cut short, with White citing Meg’s growing anxiety about performing, and the White Stripes went into an extended hiatus.

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“This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” Talking Heads ‘Remain in Light.’ released on 10/8/80, The Talking Heads released their fourth studio album and arguably their strongest and most influential full length – “Remain in Light”. This time the band, along with producer Brian Eno, decided to experiment with African polyrhythms and recorded the instrumental tracks as a series of samples and loops. Additional musicians were frequently used throughout the studio sessions. The album spawned two singles – “Once in a Lifetime” and “Houses in Motion” but its other compositions such as as the 1-3 opening sequence of “Born Under Punches, “Crosseyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve” that really makes for “Remain in Light” as such a must hear album. Watch The Talking Heads perform “The Great Curve” live in Dortmund from 1980.

The seeds of Talking Heads‘ landmark “Remain in Light” album were planted on the band’s previous record, 1979’s “Fear of Music”. But the year away from the studio, plus a change of locale for basic recording, made a world of difference in the end. Talking Heads went into their fourth album with the intention of proving once and for all that they were a band; they emerged as a different entity, continuing on this same path for the rest of their too-brief career.
Following the release of “Fear of Music” in August 1979 – their most successful album yet in a two-year span that was continually yielding bigger sales figures and more fans – Talking Heads were, more and more as time went on, hearing that David Byrne was essentially a gifted but eccentric frontman taking charge of the three other musicians who happened to play on his records. The band, with producer Brian Eno on board, set out to prove that they were four singular minds driving toward one shared purpose.

So, they tightened up. They got funky. They set up shop in Nassau. They surrounded “Remain in Light‘s” eight songs with a worldly blend of global pop, post-punk, American R&B and artsy experimentalism augmented by a handful of session players on horns and percussion. And they played around with loops and samples, still mostly unheard of at the time, which gave the album the otherworldly feeling that the entire project was shipped in from another time and place, nowhere near the end-of-the-century New York City that the group had come to identify with so closely.
But it’s not such a dramatic leap that the dots can’t be connected between “Fear of Music” and “Remain in Light”. In fact, “I Zimbra,” from the former, was a launching point for the latter, with the band members jamming on the song, seeing where it would take them. Along with Byrne’s recent collaborations with Eno, which would be released in 1981 as “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”, it served as both an expansion to the group’s previous work and an opening to a brave new world.

Inspired by Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the music on “Remain in Light” took on a more jam-based and fluid approach. Hip-hop, which began creeping into NYC culture at the time, also left its mark, as the eight tracks shifted, twisted and transformed into new shapes at every turn. As influential as it was revolutionary, the LP charted new musical territory for anyone interested in the sound of a dozen genres colliding and then coming together.
From the opening “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” featuring a particularly elastic bass line by Tina Weymouth, and the frenetic “Crosseyed and Painless” to “Once in a Lifetime,” which received tons of MTV airplay at the time, and the New-Wave-meets-world-music “Houses in Motion,” “Remain in Light” unfolds as a singular piece of pop music on an entirely different plain. No other record released in 1980 sounded like it; all these years later, artists are still trying to catch up.
Lyrically, the album drifted into original territory too, with Byrne combing a mix of his existential, stream-of-conscious and art-school playbooks to come up with a work that defied expectation and circumvented explanation. As he sings on “Once in a Lifetime,” “You may ask yourself, How did I get here?” There’s no easy answer, but the album changed Talking Heads forever.
The album set up the group for its breakthrough with its next LP, 1983’s “Speaking in Tongues”, which included Talking Heads’ only Top 10 hit “Burning Down the House.” That then spawned a popular tour that was later documented in the movie and album “Stop Making Sense”. The musical ideas laid out on “Remain in Light” provided the foundation for Talking Heads’ crisscrossing into other genres (including Americana and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll) before leadership issues which were never smoothed over — led to their breakup in 1991.

On their first three albums, Talking Heads made anxious, self-aware art-punk with enough pop appeal to offset the oddness. Led by yelping frontman David Byrne, whose exaggerated normal-guy persona signalled a profound discomfort with the modern world, the onetime CBGB regulars were weirdoes working within the confines of classic rock. Their music wasn’t for everyone, but by 1979, they’d notched a couple of minor hits and edged toward the mainstream.

With their landmark fourth album, “Remain In Light” Talking Heads changed everything and nothing all at once. Produced by Brian Eno, who’d helmed the group’s previous two LPs, it was something truly rare: a radical departure that nevertheless felt like a continuation of and improvement on everything that had come before.

“Remain In Light” was born at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, where Byrne and his bandmates — keyboardist Jerry Harrison and the husband-and-wife drum-and-bass team of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth — arrived song-less and ready to jam. This communal approach was a curious, given that Byrne had typically brought in nearly finished compositions and that he’d recently hinted he might be done with the group.

His most recent project had been the Eno collaboration “My Life In the Bush of Ghosts”, an experimental album heavily influenced by African sounds. That music found its way into the improvisational new Talking Heads tracks, though the extent to which the group was consciously trying to make an African-inspired record remains a point of debate. Byrne went so far as to include a bibliography of books on African art and culture with press releases for the album; Frantz and Weymouth have since downplayed the overt influence of African music.

Remain In Light” doesn’t sound much like the three Talking Heads records that came before and it doesn’t sound anything like other post-punk or New Wave albums released circa 1980. It’s heavy on single-chord polyrhythmic jams, light on traditional pop structures or hooks. Eno constructed the tracks by looping rhythmic sections and layering instrumentation — a method that initially left Byrne unsure of how or what to sing.

Inspired by Southern preachers, the Watergate tapes and some of those heady African texts he’d studied with Eno, Byrne wrote and recorded most of his lyrics after the group had returned from the Bahamas. His words have a freeform, impressionistic, cut-and-paste quality, but even so, “Remain In Light” is a record with very recognizable — and very Talking Heads — themes of alienation and the search for identity. Byrne’s every bit as perplexed, frightened and amused by the world as he was on the 1979 apocalyptic funk workout “Life During Wartime.” He’s taking his anxieties on holiday — not giving them the day off.

Byrne’s vocals weren’t the only overdubs. There were horns, extra percussion bits, female background vocals and stunning synth-treated solos from avant-garde guitar hero Adrian Belew, who’d played with the likes of Frank Zappa and King Crimson. When the band hit the road to promote the album, Belew joined the expanded line-up needed to recreate the crazy clatter in a concert setting.

Adrian Belew remembers on how not to join a Famous Band. – in 1980 I received a call asking me to come to New York City to rehearse for four days in order to learn the Talking Heads record “Remain In Light” only months before I had recorded the record all in one day with the Heads and Brian Eno. Talking Heads had the idea to expand their normal quartet to a thumping funky 10-piece band with two bass players, two keyboard players, two guitar players, two female back-up singers, one drummer and one percussionist. and we were going to learn the very layered studio monster “Remain In Light” in four days and then play two shows! somehow we did it, we learned the record and several songs from other records. But just barely. and just in time to board a plane for our first show in Toronto. Only then did we see the whole enchilada, our first show was a festival of 70,000 people! they flew us to the vast backstage area in helicopters. looking down at the sea of tiny flesh baffles, I was nervous enough to jump out in mid-air. it seemed like all the hip bands of the moment were present. the B-52’s, the Pretenders, Elvis Costello, the Clash. it was called the heatwave festival, billed as the first “new wave” festival, and was actually in a place called Mosport park.
Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe played. the Pretenders played. the B 52’s played. minutes before we were set to play I opened the door to our backstage trailer to discover most of the band snorting lines of coke from the backs of guitars. they quickly shooed me away, knowing I didn’t partake.
The timing of our performance was fortuitous; just as the sun was setting. I joined the original four Heads to play “Psycho Killer”, then the full band was brought onstage. we launched right into the new material. no one in the audience even knew the “Remain In Light” record as yet but it didn’t matter, the band was smoking! halfway through our set we played a song from “Fear of Music” called “I Zimbra” on the recorded version David had played a fast running guitar line. as soon as we started that song I could tell the coke had kicked in. we played it twice as fast as it was on the record! my fingers had a hard time keeping up and I was worried our 45-minute set might be over in 20. but it all worked out. the band was an instant success.
For our second show we played in Central Park but only 125,000 people showed up! at the time you couldn’t go into a bookstore, bar, record shop, or restaurant without hearing Talking Heads music in the background. It was an exciting time to be in the band. David, Chris, Tina, and Jerry decided to keep the 10-piece funk machine rolling for a whole world tour including Japan and then Europe. it was a wacky cast of characters to live with and we had loads of fun.

The lead single, “Once In a Lifetime,” missed the Hot 100 chart memorable video that became an MTV staple the following year.

The track-by-track take of this, the most strangely brilliant album from a band that did strange and brilliant better than anyone.

“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”: Within seconds, the Heads establish the wonky world they’ll explore for much of the next 40 minutes. It’s vibrant and alive yet weirdly claustrophobic: a paradise for paranoids. Amid skittering beats, belching bass and guitars that caw like tropical birds and scamper like ants on discarded mangos, Byrne plays a spiritually suffocating “government man” who just wants to breathe easy. Good luck with that one.

“Crosseyed and Painless”: More alienation set to alien grooves, this time with rougher rock guitars and a broader sense of unease. “Lost my shape,” Byrne sings at the outset, before deciding that shapes — and really facts of any kind — are inherently meaningless. As Byrne unravels, Frantz and Weymouth unspool insistently frazzled funk, making madness seem rather fun.

“The Great Curve”: Probably the most African-inspired track, both in terms of music and lyrics, this pulsing six-minute polyrhythmic free-for-all shifts the focus from freaked-out Byrne to some divine female figure (maybe a stand-in for all women) who’s “gonna open our eyes up.” It’s breathless and hopeful, complete with Belew guitar solos that shriek like people dying to come out of the dark.

“Once In a Lifetime”: Props to Eno and Harrison: The keyboards really do evoke floating as Byrne thinks about all that water bubbling down below our cars and houses and meaningless little lives. Some hear the song as a rant against ‘80s materialism, but Byrne has said it’s more about switching off autopilot and taking stock of how we get to where we end up. It’s man beating a drum and looking for answers he won’t find — same as it ever was.

“Houses In Motion”: If “Once In a Lifetime” is ambivalent about whether life is worth living, this chilly, plodding track paints a darker picture. The creepy-crawly rhythm that lit such a fire on “Born Under Punches” has slowed way down and Byrne is back to being a put-upon modern man forced to trudge sockless through a world where even that saviour lady from “The Great Curve” has “closed her eyes.” Those distorted horns laid down by frequent Eno collaborator Jon Hassell suggest not the grand trumpets of the apocalypse, but rather the sounds of elephants poised to stamp you dead without even realizing it.

“Seen and Not Seen”: Another slow jam, this sparse, wobbly, spoken-word gem finds Byrne ditching all the preacher-man affects and talking like a regular guy. Over a stomp-clap rhythm reminiscent of early hip-hop, Byrne calmly tells the story of a guy who wants to change his face — either to match his true personality or to better represent the personality he’s always wished he had. The guy’s not sure and Byrne’s not judging. We’ve all been there.

“Listening Wind”: Startlingly minimalist, this tale of a Third World terrorist prepping a mail bomb for one of the Americans who’ve muscled into his country marks a sharp turn from personal politics to global politics. The synths evoke both natural sounds and the digital blipping of Mojique’s device and Byrne again takes a non-judgmental, sympathetic tone. As a prescient commentary on the consequences of American foreign policy, “Listening Wind” suggests Talking Heads weren’t embarking naively on their quasi-African adventure.

“The Overload”: Talking Heads go goth with this bleak six-minute unhappy ending. The trudge of “Houses In Motion” is now a muddy, hopeless slog. Harrison’s keyboards sputter like machine guns or jeep motors and there’s a sense the band is performing in some burned-out future earth, using the last dregs of electricity to power its instruments.

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Sharon Van Etten contemplates life and love and the accompanying kaleidoscope of emotions.” Throughout her discography, consisting of six sublime studio albums, the singer/songwriter has consistently merged the dark and the dazzling, proving herself to be one of the best lyricists of the 2010s.

This Spring Sharon Van Etten released “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong“, her sixth and most instrumentally diverse record in a storied 13-year career. Before releasing her debut, “Because I Was in Love“, in 2009, and forging a blueprint of heavy, sometimes sparse, emotional upheavals, Van Etten worked as a publicist for Ba Da Bing Records and sold handmade, self-released CDs. Now, a half-dozen LPs and more than a decade later, Van Etten has never been side-lined by formulaic exhaustion each of her projects tap into similar emotional headspaces, but never flirt with redundancy. She’s enigmatic and self-aware; graceful and humorous understanding of what weight a song can hold, what reactions restraint can provoke.

Van Etten’s journey to where she is now has been a slow burn, as she’s patiently amassed a discography that’s always remaking itself sonically. Each record has built an empire out of the one predating it, and Van Etten’s work has become a cornerstone in indie rock through consistency, experimentation and brilliance—and her collaborations with Josh Homme, Norah Jones and Angel Olsen, among others, showcase her adaptability, how she can so comfortably fit into any song with anyone. (She’s even linking up with Julien Baker and reuniting with Olsen for the powerhouse Wild Hearts Tour this summer.)

As the Brooklyn singer/songwriter celebrates “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong“, another triumphant document of romance, pitfalls and joys, in a discography patented by it, is highlighting each project’s acclaim. Below we look at all six Sharon Van Etten albums, which range from gentle acts of anti-romantic balladry to powerful declarations of hard-earned healing.

Because I Was in Love (2009)

Van Etten’s debut chronicles the balance between disaster and joy in love, exploring the improbability of easy, happy endings. It’s not as instrumentally rich as her subsequent records, but there’s a raw power that beautifully upends our perceptions of the bounds a singer/songwriter project has to abide by. The place of intimacy from which Van Etten has worked is always palpable and addicting, and “Because I Was in Love” exists as proof.

Sharon Van Etten’s first recordings are among her most delicate. “Consolation Prize,” the second song on her debut “Because I Was In Love” is a spare and beautiful venture in plucking. The narrator of this tune doesn’t want to be someone’s last choice, or even their second. “The moral of the story / is don’t walk away again,” Van Etten warns. “No, I’ll never be your consolation prize.”

“For You” is still a standout in her catalogue, with that intoxicating “I was running home to you / I was hoping that you knew” melody; “I Wish I Knew” remains her most triumphant opener, as she immediately leans into the vulnerable song writing she’s made her blueprint. “I wish I knew what to do with you,” she sings on the track, capturing the gist of the entire record: a tender, brilliant testament to love’s greatest confusions.

Epic (2010)

With her second album, “Epic”, Van Etten perfectly built off her debut effort in a concise way, adding depth and rich textures to a shaped voice and daring, outspoken lyrics in just seven tracks. What sets her apart from many contemporaries is how she chooses to open herself up, as she chronicles second-person interactions with a memorable eye for self-analysis. “Don’t leave me now, you might love me back,” she sings on “One Day,” her best pre-“Tramp” tune.

On this track from 2010’s “epic”, Van Etten is all of a sudden an emboldened troubadour, chasing the sounds of an adventure. She starts the song unsure: “I was somewhat afraid / I was something.” But, after a too-short couple of minutes of bouncing drum and choral backing vocals, she’s awake and self-assured: “When I woke up I was already me / And I am not afraid / I am something.”

Sharon Van Etten is a master slow-burner, and “Love More,” the album kicker from “epic“, is a particularly beautiful shedding of the wax. Her retelling of an emotionally abusive relationship, and a way of coping with the aftermath of it, is sad but cathartic.

The synth-driven closing track “Love More” got a lot of attention because Bon Iver covered it, but, on its own, is one of Van Etten’s most affecting codas. (“You chained me like a dog in our room / It made me love, it made me love, it made me love more” is still a heater of a lyric couplet.) When “Because I Was in Love” arrived in our hearts in 2009, Van Etten was drawing comparisons to Marissa Nadler and Norah Jones (with whom she would later collaborate); by the time she wrote “Epic” a year later, she’d surpassed both of them completely.

Tramp (2012)

She pivoted to Jagjaguwar for her next album, “Tramp”, and has remained at the label since. But in the years since 2014, when that fourth record, “Are We There” arrived, something happened. Actually, a lot of things happened: Van Etten started a romantic relationship with her once-drummer and now-partner Zeke Hutchins, went back to school at Brooklyn College, secured a recurring role on the Netflix show The OA and had a baby—in that order. 

It takes some courage to admit “I am bad at loving.” Using clever rhymes (“Well, well, hell”) and folksy acoustic guitar, Van Etten looks back on a soured relationship and shares the blame for its demise. The track, which Van Etten says was inspired by Leonard Cohen (and also the “Kevin” who’s referenced on the preceding track) is one of the best on “Tramp“.

Produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, “Tramp” is Van Etten’s most forward creation, littered with angry ballads of isolation and mistrust. The production of this record is plucky and visceral, an industrial precursor of the detouring, harmonious leap she would make, instrumentally, on “Are We There” two years later. When she goes up a register on the scoffing, jangly “Warsaw,” in come stark, clamorous echoes of that familiar heartache Van Etten has consistently plucked from her own emotional repertoire. But the shining parts of “Tramp” arrive when she comes back around and tilts the spotlight away from herself.

Love is torture. What do you do when a relationship is clearly toxic, but the feelings are so strong, so all-consuming? In the case of this song’s narrator, you freeze. Van Etten said writing the song was her “therapy.” But it might be useful for more than just herself: The signs of an unhealthy relationship (“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you / Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you / Burn my skin so I can’t feel you”) show themselves in varying ways, and Van Etten’s assessment is a look at the very worst. But it’s a song that moves and stirs, drawing more empathy out of me than I knew was possible from an anti-love song.

On “Kevin’s,” she strains her voice while singing of someone else’s self-destruction, lamenting, “You dig your own grave / Buried in masculine pain all the time”; on “We Are Fine,” she helps a friend out of a panic attack.

During “Serpents,” the album’s lead single and Van Etten’s most eruptive and punishing track, she pleads for the simple act of consideration, belting, “I had a thought you would take me seriously,” before the memorable, racing choral breakdown. 

Above it all, “Tramp” is about healing, both individually and in relationships. “I want my scars to help and heal,” she sings on “All I Can.” On the two previous records, Van Etten sang of a world stopped while the pain came rushing in; on “Tramp“, she decided to keep moving forward through the crumbling.

Are We There (2014)

Are We There” showcases what we’ve come to love about Van Etten: The New Yorker is self-possessed in the most beautiful ways. This record came into the peripherals of many listeners by way of Twin Peaks: The Return, when Van Etten performed “Tarifa” at the Bang Bang Bar at the end of episode six. Beyond that cameo, “Tarifa” is Van Etten’s prettiest song, sandwiched between the intoxicating, electronic “Our Love” and the nervous, stark “I Love You But I’m Lost.”

The heart of “Are We There” is its finale, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which endures as a declaration of the record’s anti-romantic ethos. “People say I’m a one-hit wonder / But what happens when I have two?” she sings on the track, before obliterating the song’s anonymous subject with the “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom” line. “Are We There” is a bridge between “Tramp” and “Remind Me Tomorrow”; an immense follow-up to the former and a bold, gentle predecessor to the latter.

While she’s spent plenty of time studying despair, Sharon Van Etten knows her way around a love song—a real one, with butterflies aplenty and googly, awestruck eyes for days. “Our Love” sort of straddles love’s light and dark sides. The chorus, just a repeated crooning of “it’s our love” and “in our love” and, eventually, “it’s all love” exists in the light side. The verses, however, are more uncertain. The droning drum loop lopes along as twangy, sorrowful guitar lulls you into a trance, leaving the listener with the responsibility of deciding whether or not this song has a happy ending. One thing’s for sure, though, someone rescued her from the bottom of the “well,” making everything else worth it.

How we approach that banality of everyday life, however, is up to us. Van Etten has said “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” a brooding and funny take on the humdrum, started as a joke, just the product of some late-night silliness with her bandmates, but that doesn’t make it any less smart. It’s both a look at burdernous rituals and some kind of deeply personal anecdote, but Van Etten makes them feel like one in the same. It’s a song about nothing and everything—and also weed (“People say I’m a one hit wonder / But what happens when I have two?”). Or—wait—was she actually referring to her well-performing singles? The great thing about Sharon Van Etten is that we’ll never need to know.

Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)

“Remind Me Tomorrow” careens from the almost-galloping pace of songs like “Comeback Kid” or the third-verse howl of single Seventeen, to more restrained and almost crooning tracks like “Malibu” or “I Told You Everything“.

The three singles ahead of the album—”Comeback Kid,” “Jupiter” and “Seventeen”—are intense and grandiose in a way we haven’t seen before from Van Etten. She’s working with a new toolbox, using more synth and beats and production. It’s an exciting display of rock ’n’ roll and a noticeable break from her folk-leaning beginnings,

The release of “Comeback Kid,” the first single from “Remind Me Tomorrow” was when we realized 1. the old Sharon can’t come to the phone right now and 2. the new Sharon is a dark queen. Of all the songs on this record, this slingshot is the most intense, and it also marks a pivotal point in Van Etten’s career, when she introduced us to a whole new trove of her capabilities as a musician. Van Etten returned with firepower, a song so loud and alive we couldn’t tune it out.

The intensity of “Seventeen” matches that of the two previously released singles from “Remind Me Tomorrow, “Comeback Kid” and “Jupiter 4.” We’ve always counted on Van Etten to bring excellent lyrics and brooding melodies to the table, but we’ve never heard her like this—emboldened and chasing a darker, more driving strand of rock ‘n’ roll. “Seventeen” is almost Springsteen-esque in its grandiosity and nostalgia, though it’s more charged. The track’s companion video is, as Van Etten put it in a tweet, a “love letter” to New York City. In the clip, Van Etten chases a perfectly cast “shadow” of her former self (seriously—it’s eerie how similar these two look) around NYC, reckoning with her past and remembering when “she used to be 17.” The video is sentimental, but Van Etten is skeptical of youth’s glow, too: “I used to feel free, or was it just a dream?” she sings.

Van Etten gravitated towards synths on this record, thanks in part to indie archetype Michael Cera – they shared a practice space – which sees her formerly guitar-based music open up to new sonic textures. Yet the album remains anchored by Van Etten’s vulnerable, honest and good-humoured lyricism, which while haunted by a recurring “shadow”, glows with the loving perspective of a new mother.

We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (2022)

We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong” is a career-spanning Van Etten record. She elected to not share any singles prior to the album’s release, making a statement on artistic control, productivity and the dedication she has to her craft. The record beautifully taps into every era of Van Etten’s career, weaving in and out of acoustic ballads, synthy, atmospheric flickers and orchestral compositions fit for high-ceiling chambers or starry amphitheaters. It’s less a follow-up to “Remind Me Tomorrow” and more a first step towards something grander, something Van Etten perhaps hasn’t even figured out yet. “Born” is a magnetic, sprawling opera (“It was something like a window / And I wanted to break free”), while “Headspace” follows as a sensual, brash tune with inversely sublime lyrics (“I want to touch you in the dark”). Lyrically, Van Etten has stripped back her usual approach, trading in on-the-nose dissections for more accessible couplets about desire and moving on.

But instrumentally, she’s never been more experimental, electing to make these songs feel conversational through arrangements that perfectly complement her vocal performances. On every preceding project, Van Etten sounded like she was scratching at some kind of revelation; on “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong“, she’s made peace with what she has, or hasn’t, discovered.

The Albums:

  • Because I Was in Love (2009)
  • epic (2010)
  • Tramp (2012)
  • Are We There (2014)
  • Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)
  • We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, (2022)

The EPs:

  • Amazon Artist Lounge – EP (2014)
  • I Don’t Want to Let You Down – EP (2015)

Left us on this day (April 23rd) in 1991: American rock’n’roll/punk rock guitarist, singer & songwriter Johnny Thunders (believed to be drug-related causes, age 38), who came to prominence as a founding guitar player of influential, proto-punk band, The New York Dolls (1971-75); born John Anthony Genzale, Jr., he renamed himself after a comic book of the same name; the Dolls released the seminal albums ‘New York Dolls’ (1973) & ‘Too Much Too Soon’ (1974); Johnny left & formed The Heartbreakers in 1975, recording on & off until 1984 (including the essential 1977 album ‘L.A.M.F.’); he also recorded solo, including the 1978 considered classic LP ‘So Alone’, featuring a rock & punk celebrity cast & arguably his greatest composition, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”; he also formed Gang of War with MC5’s Wayne Kramer for one album in 1990; his final recording was a version of “Born To Lose”, with German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen less than two days before his passing in New Orleans; in 1999, veteran documentary filmmaker Lech Kowalski released ‘Born To Lose: The Last Rock ‘N’ Roll Movie’; Danny Garcia’s featured documentary, ‘Looking for Johnny’, was released in 2014…

My admiration of Johnny Thunders stems from my huge love of his tenure with the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers. I’ve just started listening to his solo catalogue again. And I started off with what are identified as his three true studio albums, “So Alone”, “Que Sera Sera”, and “Copy Cats”. Does anyone recommend listening to specific other releases of his that are floating around out there? There are so many titles live albums, compilations, bootlegs, Love to get your recommendations please.

“DTK live at the Speakeasy” often included in some LAMF reissues. “Live at the Village Gate” is good. If you can get your hands on one, “LAMF Heartbreakers definitive edition” box CD set. It includes 4 CD’s (and badges!), LAMF lost ’77 mixes, LAMF the restored Track LP, LAMF demo sessions ’76, ’77, LAMF alternative mixes (21 in total for that disc), deluxe booklet by Nina Antonia including a comprehensive interview with Walter Lure. You should still be able to find one on EBay probably. “Belfast nights” has pretty good sound quality. “The Yonkers demos” often included in some comps. “Madrid memory”, “The Heartbreakers live at Max’s” great sound quality. Walter Lure’s Waldos have a couple CD’s “Rent Party” and the still pretty new “Wacka Lacka Loom Bop A Loom Bam Boo” on Cleopatra Records.

‘Johnny Thunder lives on water, feeds on lightning.
Johnny Thunder don’t need no one, don’t want money.
And all the people of the town, They can’t get through to Johnny, they will never, ever break him down.
Johnny Thunder speaks for no one, goes on fighting.
And sweet Helena in bed prays for Johnny.’
“Johnny Thunder”—R. Davies

In the late summer of 1980, the remains of what was Giant Sandworms went in an exhaustive road trip to find our place in NYC’s post-punk rock whirlpool of unsigned bands. We were unprepared for this mythic belly flop into the catacombs of both the Lower East Side and the herculean task of day-to-day advancement of spinning our wheels just to play CBGB for 16 people, 15 of them being our friends.

New York City was a harsh, smelly, tinderbox of sorts. The Hell’s Angels block on First Avenue and Third Street held an obit on the west side of the street, sprayed on the brick wall in memory of Big Vinny “When in doubt, knock ’em out.” .The building was like any other building in 1981, serving as Alphabet City’s 24/7 narcotics market and shooting galleries. It wasn’t always a pleasant interaction and even Johnny Thunders was just another mark.

Back then, everybody had a story about Johnny Thunders, everybody. Way back in the early ’70s, rock had become listless. With a few exceptions, groups made the same record again and again, then a live album, with audience applause engineered to sound like panzer divisions. But the onset of change would begin in small camps, garages, and basements, by like-minded kids that didn’t fit. New York City had become dangerous, abandoned and for the taking. Beneath the Brill building, Warhol’s Factory, Manny’s Music (“try it, you buy it”), record companies furnished with mahogany and leather and maybe a faint trace of Birdland and, more recently, The Fillmore, offered up stagnation. The industry and its product were stamped in Billboard Magazine, in self-congratulatory pages, while raw, young talent went unfostered. It became near impossible to break into the machinations of this music machine.

In 1973, one band The New York Dolls almost got through. They were representing their city with driving blues rock, and hard-luck tales of youth punching back at the disorder of war, technology, urban renewal and the luckless stars of a time where nothing was forbidden. It was unapologetic, dirty, loud, and fast. The cover of their debut album found the quintet in full drag and unwashed long hair with more swagger than the Rolling Stones could muster on their best night.

Todd Rundgren produced it and it sounded as they did—no whiteout on this term paper. David Johansen was a lead singer with the goods. Lead guitarist, Johnny Thunders’ sound was driven, mangy, loud, and original. “Trash,” “Vietnamese Baby,” and “Subway Train” were unforgettable titles. There would’ve been no Sex Pistols without them and that’s just for starters. It was pure from-the-streets commentary on the times.

CREEM magazine awarded the Dolls the No. 1 best new band and No. 1 worst band in their yearly poll in 1973. Love ’em or hate ’em, they made a huge impression. The record peaked at paltry No. 119 on the Billboard album chart , and they toured in the U.S. supporting Mott The Hoople and went back to London for a short tour as well. They could inspire from an audience a chorus of boos, or offer truly compelling performances that left people gasping, saying it was the best rock show of their lives.

The band was schizophrenic and the media found them authentic if nothing else. Bowie had referenced Billy Murcia in song (“Time” from Aladin Sane), the original Dolls drummer who OD’d in a London bathtub in ’72 just before the band signed to Mercury. By ’74 the quintet made Too Much Too Soon with Shangri-Las’ producer Shadow Morton. It held “Babylon,” “Human Being,” and Thunders’ first lead vocal on “Chatterbox.” It was camp but cool, choosing mostly great covers like Philadelphia’s “Gamble and Huff” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking.” Record sales were even worse than the first outing, and the tours were hampered by bassist Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane’s alcoholism and the heroin habits of Thunders’ and drummer Jerry Nolan. Infighting and a lack of new material found them waning, they dropped by Mercury.

In ’75, Thunders and Nolan quit the band. But along with the MC5, The Stooges, and The Dictators, the Dolls were the American precursor to a punk-rock movement that found its place in every city young, reckless, and hungry.

Johnny Thunders forms The Heartbreakers, Thunders might have been without a band or a steady gig for a week before he formed The Heartbreakers, which, for a downtown minute, included Richard Hell. But the group would be ex-Doll Jerry Nolan, guitarist Walter Lure, and Billy Rath on bass. They worked and developed a devil-may-care harder rock sound and, planned or not, they were synonymous with heroin. You wouldn’t find The Heartbreakers pictured with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” slogan above their heads. What I did see on every other pole and telephone booth after moving to New York City with a post-Heartbreakers pic of Johnny sideways in a hat, syringe sticking out of the brim, pimping his next show, trading street cred for self-parody by 1982.

The Heartbreakers played around New York and then overseas as be part of the historic Sex Pistols’ Anarchy Tour. Four dates in and things imploded. London was not used to a group like this, unafraid to play a guitar solo, yanks dressed big-city junkie cool with enough ego and stage presence to be long remembered. They stayed and recorded the record L.A.M.F. , a very good journal of a rock & roll band with antisocial bravado and American conceit and big dirt-sugar pop hooks. But the record was muddy and poorly mixed and has by now a remixed version or two, but you don’t get them when you need them and Nolan left the band because of it.

They became an apparition of sorts, who would through the years get back together for a payday, but in their time, they were the house band at Max’s Kansas City and took on all contenders. (Their swagger-y ’79 live album, Live at Max’s Kansas City, smokes).

Thunders stayed in London and the next year put out his debut record “So Alone”, one of ’78’s best by anyone. He had Paul Cook and Steve Jones hot to play from The Pistols’ demise and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on bass, some Peter Perrett (Only Ones) on guitar, and it opens on a cover of The Chantays’ “Pipeline” and it don’t quit. The ultimate in blood-on-the-page ballads is “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and covers Otis Blackwell II’s “Daddy Rolling Stone” with Thunders on the first verse, Lynott emotive second, and Steve Marriott, the white blues-boogie screamer, who turns the final verse into sulfur, striking fire, holding nothing back.

The studio is said to have been an all-day and all-night den of vice and electricity, where all involved saw a success in its making and a fortune cookie that read “Your Time is Nigh.” So Alone was helmed by a young (pre-U2) Steve Lillywhite. It earned some good press on both continents, sold better than expected and is a rock ‘n’ roller’s album. Johnny’s vocals were as good as they got and his playing was tough, sincere and even tender. It has aged well. But and he never hit that high again. In fact, all three of the voices heard in “Daddy Rolling Stone,” would be dead within a decade.

After returning to the States, Thunders became more difficult, more undisciplined, and toured to survive and make his bones with mostly sub-par bands, or worse. Thunders and Wayne Kramer were in that storied, short-lived combo Gang War. The few songs I’d heard were reggae influenced, but with no real direction. The band was more like a ghetto timeshare for two very talented men. It was a project that brought no record deal and no new respect for the future rock ‘n’ roll legends. Lots of time-wasting though.

Fighting with his band, fighting with his roadies, and with the audience. Trolling the faces to call down: “hey douchebag, pussy, come suck me off!” as if he was waiting on something or someone to take the weight off, to just be John again, or someone else completely. The shows might have been sloppy the first week, but you end up floating downstream letting a last power chord float when he didn’t know the bridge or when the band did one out of thin air he didn’t know. Thunders would look back, frown, turn up a notch before doing standards like “Can’t Kick,” “Chinese Rocks” or a cover he still found a friend in.

May be an image of 4 people, people standing, people playing musical instruments and guitar